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  • Sep
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New bishop of Fall River urges Catholics to celebrate their diversity

Posted By September 26, 2014 | 4:39 pm | National

By Dave Jolivet Catholic News Service

FALL RIVER, Mass. (CNS) — At his Sept. 24 installation Mass at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha of Fall River urged Catholics of the diocese to recognize their “rich diversity of gifts” and “live in harmony despite our differences.”

“Our cultural differences, our different styles of devotions and spirituality, even our theological or ecclesial views should not divide us. On the contrary, they should be a reason to celebrate our diversity, which enriches us all as church,” said the bishop, a native of Brazil who came to the United States when he was a seminarian.

When he was appointed to Fall River in early July, Bishop da Cunha, a priest of the Society of Divine Vocations, had been an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, since 2003 and vicar general of the archdiocese since 2013.

He succeeds now-retired Bishop George W. Coleman, 75, who had headed the 110-year-old diocese since 2003. Pope Francis accepted his resignation in July when Bishop da Cunha was named Fall River’s eighth bishop.

Concelebrants included Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, who was Fall River’s bishop from 1992 to 2002; Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington; and more than 20 other bishops. Scores of priests and hundreds of laypeople filled the cathedral. The congregation included three of Bishop da Cunha’s sisters from Brazil and many Catholics from the Archdiocese of Newark.

Before the Mass began, members of the Neocatechumenal Way played guitar and sang Spanish hymns across the street to welcome the new bishop.

Bishop Coleman welcomed his successor, saying: “Over the years we and our families came here from many countries; from Europe, Africa, North America, South America and Asia. We speak in many tongues. We are one in the faith.”

“From my personal experience, Bishop da Cunha, I can assure you of the generous prayers of the priests, the religious and laity of this wonderful diocese,” he added.

Cardinal O’Malley said the new bishop would find “a fine presbyterate; wonderful, dedicated deacons, religious and laity, to say nothing of the great Portuguese food and beautiful beaches.” He also expressed his “admiration and gratitude to Bishop Coleman for his faithful, loving service to the people of the Diocese of Fall River.”

Bishop da Cunha said he thanked God for “entrusting to me the mission of leading his people on the journey of faith and the path to holiness.”

“I feel so grateful today that the Lord and Pope Francis gave me this beautiful gift: the opportunity to serve the Lord and his people here in the diocese of Fall River. My brother priests and my brothers and sisters, I pledge to you today to use all the gifts God gave me; to use all the graces he will continue giving me, to serve you and to do it faithfully and joyfully.”

“We shall walk together in faith and hope, sharing our faith with each other, praying for one another always trusting in the Lord’s words” and his promise that his grace is enough for us,” he added.

After the Mass, many in the congregation filled buses to attend a welcome reception for Bishop da Cunha in the neighboring town of Westport.

For many at the reception, it was their first encounter with the new bishop.

“I think Bishop da Cunha is wonderful,” said Sandra Vigeant, a parishioner of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Acushnet, who asked him to sign his photo card that was included with the installation Mass program.

Matt Gill, a third-year student at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton expressed similar excitement about meeting the bishop.

“He’s just a humble and sincere man and I think he really wants to get know everybody,” Gill said. “You can tell he has a very good pastoral heart.”

Gill and several of his seminarian classmates posed for a group photo with Bishop da Cunha, who had previously been vocations director for his order.

Jillian McHenry, a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, said Bishop da Cunha’s appointment to Fall River was “one of several things that brought me back and helped me come back to church.”

Admitting she had stopped going to church after high school, the college junior and member of Catholic Campus Ministry at her university, beamed with joy at meeting the newly installed bishop at the reception.

She wanted to memorialize the moment by taking a selfie with the bishop, who graciously obliged her.

“I heard a lot of good things about him,” McHenry told The Anchor, Fall River’s diocesan newspaper. “He’s very nice and down-to-earth and I had heard that he really wants to bring the youth back to the church and that’s sort of what inspired me to go back.”

In addition to those from the Fall River Diocese, there was also a sizable contingent of priests and parishioners from the Newark Archdiocese.

A group of longtime friends from St. Michael’s Parish in Newark, where Bishop da Cunha was ordained a priest and first assigned in 1982, praised their former pastor.

Mario Montoya, a former parishioner, put it this way: “We are losing a good man, but you are gaining a good man.”

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Contributing to this story was Kenneth J. Souza.